Biology Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for biology researchers, academics, and students. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Are there any examples of two species taxonomically classified in different biological families that have successfully hybridized and produced viable offspring? If not, is there an example of where reproduction occured with non-viable offspring?

To be clear, I mean regular sexual reproduction that could occur in the natural world outside a lab. Even so, I'd be curious to know if it could even occur in a lab without direct genetic manipulation.

For example, grolar bears which are ursid hybrids between different species in the Ursus genus are known to exist. Also ursid hybrids between bear species in different genuses have been produced in captivity (sloth bear Melursus ursinus x Malayan sun bear Ursus malayanus and sloth bear x Asiatic black bear Ursus thibetanus). Would an extra-familial hybridisation be possible? Would this be more likely in the plant kingdom?

This question is inspired by a separate question on the Gardening SE which hints at a general lack of understanding of the genetic similarity required for cross-pollination in plants. It made me wonder whether there are any exceptions to the general assumption that extra-familial hybridisation is impossible.

share|improve this question
Following the definitions of hybrid and of sexual reproduction, one could consider Horizontal Gene Transfer and answer YES to your question with the case of the photosynthetic sea slug for example. – Remi.b Oct 28 '13 at 17:17
I should have been more specific to limit this to gene transfer/recombination occurring by sexual reproduction (i.e. vertical gene transfer) but thanks for the point. – Lisa Oct 28 '13 at 23:46
One of the problems is that "Family" and really any taxonomic designation are fuzzy. We often don't even really know where to draw the line between two species, even in animals, where such things are relatively easy. Since none of the taxonomic designations tell us anything about genetic distance except "the two taxa are genetically different from each other", any examples of inter-familial hybridization won't tell you anything about the general likelihood of such an occurrence... – Chinmay Kanchi Oct 29 '13 at 0:50
A more valuable question might be "What is the maximum genetic distance at which hybridization by sexual reproduction has been observed?" And of course, the answer to that is, "I don't know" :P. Which is why this is a comment and not an answer. – Chinmay Kanchi Oct 29 '13 at 0:51
@ChinmayKanchi As stated, there is a practical purpose behind the question, not merely a completely idle wondering. A new gardener without much backgrounding in biology wants to avoid hybridisation in her vegetable patch. How do you give simple instructions on avoiding it? For the lay-person the problems of taxonomic fuzziness are of zero interest. She just has labels with the species written on. Based on the single answer, I'd tell her first only be concerned about inter-genus and inter-species hybrids and then on how to prevent such cross pollination. – Lisa Oct 29 '13 at 1:21
up vote 13 down vote accepted

Interfamilial hybrids have never, to my knowledge, been recorded occurring naturally (without human intervention).

In plants, somatic inter-familial hybrids have been produced for a wide variety of species pairs in the lab (e.g. between carrot and barley; Kisaka et al. 1997).

In animals, there are some historical reports of hybrids between chickens (Mathis & MacDougald 1987) or peafowl (Serebrovsky 1929), both in Phasianidae, and guineafowl (in Numididae). The animal example meets your condition of being outside the lab, although they were produced by breeders.


share|improve this answer
Really helpful. Thanks. – Lisa Jun 14 '12 at 7:27

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.